Finding My Child’s Love Languages: A shortcut to effective parenting
Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, has helped many couples to experience better connection and satisfaction in their relationships, but we can also use Chapman’s insights to improve relationships with our children.
Here is a short guide on how we can use the love languages to take some of the guess work out of making sure our children feel safe, loved, and validated.
What is a love language?
The five love languages are:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
Each of us is wired to respond more strongly to some of these love languages than others. Therefor, if our partner, friends, parents, and teachers speak the right language, it is more likely that we will feel accepted, understood, acknowledged, and loved.
How does this relate to me and my children?
Children who feel accepted, understood, acknowledged, and loved, grow into confident and resilient adults. These are some of the most basic and most important responsibilities of the parent, and sit just above food, shelter, and safety on Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs pyramid.
Maslow's heirarchy of needs. Image retrieved from McLoud (2020)
By honing in on the love languages that your child is most responsive to, you can more easily ensure that you are meeting these important psychological needs in your child, and experience deeper connection and satisfaction as a parent.
Decoding the Love Languages in Children
Figuring out what love languages your child best responds to isn’t hard. In fact, if your child is over the age of 5, you probably already know. However, it’s good to be clear and intentional about how we take advantage of this knowledge.
Words of Affirmation
Does your child complement you and others often, and positively glow when you describe to them how wonderful you think they are? Chances are they are highly responsive to the 'Words of Affirmation' language. Fishing for complements could be another giveaway.
Dr. Gary Chapman acknowledges that most parents are great with words of affirmation when it comes to babies and toddlers, but flip the script with older kids and teenagers. He suggests that positive reinforcement is a much more effective and less harmful tool than criticism, for children strong in the 'Words of Affirmation' love language.
Does your child pull you toward his room as soon as you get in the door? Or jump at the opportunity to be involved in everything you do? This would indicate that ‘Quality Time’ is important for your child.
Children big on 'Quality Time' benefit from mum and dad getting involved in the things they are interested in. They will remember the things you did together much more than the things you said, or the gifts you brought them.
Dr. Gary Chapman states that for this language, “you must get down on the child’s level if you eventually want to lead them into the adult world”, and suggests that if you spend the time meeting this need in your young child, they will likely invite you into their world as a teenager, rather than looking solely toward their peers.
This love language needs no introduction, and most of us are already very good at it. It’s a reflexive instinct for a lot of parents (and grandparents) to shower their children in gifts, if they can afford it. This is great for the child who is strong in ‘Receiving Gifts’, but has little emotional impact on the child who is not.
Does your child delight in the act of making and giving gifts to friends and family? Do they treasure gifts from people they care about? Then perhaps ‘Receiving Gifts’ is an important love language for them.
Dr. Gary Chapman insists that this is not bad news for the bank account! For these children, it is quite literally the thought that counts, and a home-made or refurbished gift will have just as much emotional value for this child as an expensive toy from the store.
Acts of Service
This one is great, because being a parent is quite literally the single biggest ‘Act of Service’ a person can make in this life. Often we (the parent) use our acts of service as justification of the deep love we have for our children. Whether or not they appreciate this, however, might depend on whether or not ‘Acts of Service’ is a primary love language for them.
If your child appears genuinely grateful when you fix a toy, build a fort, or perform some other act that adds direct value to their life, then ‘Acts of Service’ may be an their love language. Dr. Gary Chapman warns that all other children will most probably just take these things for granted.
Do you have a child who is constantly grabbing you, jumping on your lap, bumping into you while you walk, and whining for cuddles? This can be super annoying, but chances are they feel most loved through ‘Physical Touch’, and it’s really important that we respond to this need as parents.
This is another one of those ones that we are fantastic at giving babies, but are less skilled at offering older children and teenagers. If your own love language is physical touch, you’ll find it easy to stay close and cuddly as your kids get older. If not, you might need to make an effort.
Knowing your child’s love languages can be a pathway to better connection, more effective parenting, and more positive outcomes for you child as they develop. For more in depth information and further resources, please visit Dr. Gary Chapman’s website, or grab a copy of his book, listed in the resources below.
Chapman, G. (2016). The 5 Love Languages: The secret to love that lasts.. Northfield Publishing. Available at https://www.amazon.com/Love-Languages-Secret-that-Lasts/dp/080241270X
McLeod, S. (2020). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html#gsc.tab=0